Saturday, July 19, 2008

Districts seeking bilingual teachers

Bilingual classes required by law

June 30, 2008
By CIGI ROSS Staff Writer

ELGIN -- Local school districts have a tough time recruiting bilingual teachers to accommodate the high number of Spanish-speaking students.

Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300 and Elgin School District U46 have large numbers of students needing bilingual services -- about 2,000 and 6,500 respectively. But the districts aren't just trying to help the non-English speaking students out. They are required by law to offer the students classes that cater to their language abilities.

Illinois law requires districts to offer bilingual education to students until their English proficiency meets testing standards and they can advance to an English classroom.

The type of class model is determined by how many students of the same language background are at a school. Traditional bilingual education is provided for students when there are 20 or more of the same language background. According to Illinois law, students are taught in their native language while they learn English. Traditional bilingual education helps students maintain and develop skills in their primary language and culture while they are introduced to and develop their English skills.

Districts offer a transitional program of instruction when there are 19 or fewer students of the same language background at a school. These classes focus on developing English and educational concepts appropriate for their ability and language level throughout the day.

The amount of time the students are taught in their native language is determined by the student's progress. The amount of English increases as the child gets better at English, said Lalo Ponce, U46's assistant superintendent of administrative services.

Each year, school districts administer a state-mandated proficiency test called Assessing Comprehension and Communication in State-to-State for English Language Learners, or ACCESS. The ACCESS test is the indicator of English language proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Schools are required to provide bilingual education until each student has progressed enough to move on to English-only classrooms. Once the students meet the state and district criteria, they can exit the English language learners program.

"By law, all students receive formal English language instruction daily and they advance based on their language and academic performance," Ponce said.

Bilingual teachers also are required to meet state standards. Teachers must take a language proficiency test that determines their English mastery. The minimum passing score is 80 percent in the areas of reading, writing and speaking.

Ponce said teachers need an Illinois State teaching certificate in addition to the 18-hour endorsement in English as a second language and bilingual education to be highly qualified.

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